Features, Print November 12, 2021

Trash Cat and the Absurdity of the Human Experience

by Gabe Allen

~ Greeley’s silliest band takes making good music seriously ~

One night, a few years ago, Hayden Farr, saxophonist for The Burroughs, was out drinking with his bandmates at Patrick’s Irish Pub in Greeley. At the end of the night, they made the well-worn trek back to Farr’s house. But somewhere along the way, a stranger fell into step behind them. It was a scruffy stray cat that looked like he had crawled out of a dumpster. The cat was not to be deterred. That night it had chosen this cohort of local funk musicians to be his new family. 

“Trash cat,” somebody dubbed the mangy feline.

On a Saturday morning not too long after, Farr sat in front of the TV Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe with his roommates Mary and Brian Claxton, drummer and bassist for The Burroughs respectively. 

“I really want to write a song about Connie from the show,” he mentioned to no one in particular. “Let’s do it,” Mary Claxton replied.

A few weeks later, when it came time to name the new band, the answer was obvious: Trash Cat.

Thus, Greeley’s greatest-of-all-time cartoon-inspired indie funk rock band was formed. The power trio features Mary Claxton on lead vocals and electric ukulele, Farr on baritone sax and Brian Claxton on drum kit. Though all three members hold down day jobs and tour with The Burroughs, they have clearly carved out plenty of time for their “side project.” Their live performances are exceedingly danceable, and their recordings are meticulously produced. 

Trash Cat from left: Hayden Farr, Mary Claxton and Brian Claxton

On December 3, Trash Cat will set the mood during rounds of cosmic bowling at Chippers Lanes in Fort Collins as part of the “Live on the Lanes” series. Attendees will witness the first ever live performance of the band’s sophomore album, The Tide, also set to be released in December.

Like on their previous LP, the band used cartoons and pop culture as narrative fodder for their new material. Track names on The Tide reference shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe and even Forever, the Prime Video drama with Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph. In a time where indie artists are often praised for unyielding vulnerability, Trash Cat has discarded personal storytelling in favor of fantasy.

Mary Claxton’s propensity for fictional narratives was first sparked by her day job. When the band formed, she was teaching a “modern band program” for middle school and high school students at Polaris Expeditionary Learning School in Fort Collins. 

“The concept of character writing sort of co-developed with Trash Cat and my teaching,” she tells BandWagon. “Imagine you’re 13 years old and you’re trying to write about your innermost feelings. It’s a lot to share. On some level I felt the same way about myself.”

Flip through the entire November issue at BandWagMag.com

Claxton and her bandmates found that they were more unrestrained and creative when they distanced themselves from the narrative. Writing about someone else allowed the band to have fun and not take themselves too seriously. Of course, like any good fiction, bits of the author’s perspective eventually leak through.

“It’s always our take on it,” Claxton said. “‘When I’m Grown’ from our first album is about BMO, the tiny robot from Adventure Time, but it really ended up being about the process of growing up.”

At the core of the Trash Cat ethos is a beautiful irreverence — an acceptance of the joy, pain, pleasure and sorrow of life and a commitment to poking fun at all of it. After all, there’s only so much that can be communicated through earnestness.

“To me, music is the expression of the human experience,” Claxton said, “and there is so much of the human experience that is truly absurd. Then there are lots of things that are tender and beautiful. We try to strike a balance.”

There is no better example of this than the band’s latest single, “The Only Person I Like” (check out the excellent music video below). In the hooky, radio-ready single, Mary Claxton manages to simultaneously deliver a relatable story about love during the pandemic and tie the whole thing into the Ghostbusters universe.

She gave the song to her husband as a Valentine’s Day present, but it was too good to keep to themselves. As soon as they got it into the studio to work on The Tide, Brian laid down a straight-forward rock beat and Farr wrote a groovy, melodic baseline on his bari, the two following Mary’s lead with the undeterred confidence of the stray tabby who inspired the band’s name. As it turns out, following those kinds of impulses makes for pure, Trash Cat-y gold.

Trash Cat will release The Tide December 2. Catch them “Live On The Lanes” at 830 North in Fort Collins Friday, December 3rd, presented by The Mishawaka and 105.5 The Colorado Sound. More at facebook.com/trashcattunes